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Antonio Cromartie stepping up as CB and WR

Antonio Cromartie attempts to return an interception for

Antonio Cromartie attempts to return an interception for positive yards during the first quarter against Andre Johnson of the Houston Texans. (Oct. 8, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

Darrelle Revis, the unquestioned No. 1 cornerback in the NFL, is out for the season with a knee injury, but Jets coach Rex Ryan believes Antonio Cromartie has backed up his promise to take over for Revis as the NFL’s top corner.

Cromartie certainly shut down Houston’s perennial Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson on Monday night, holding him to one catch for 15 yards. Now, Cromartie faces another tough task on Sunday covering Indianapolis veteran Reggie Wayne, who has 36 catches for 506 yards and two touchdowns through the first five games.

“It’s going to be tough,” Ryan said. “If [Wayne] just sat out there where he used to be, I think it would be a little easier. We’d be able to identify where he is. But they’re moving him around a little bit. It’s kind of hard to get your hands on him.”

The Colts’ new coaching staff sometimes puts Wayne in the slot, and they like to line him up in what is known as a “two-man bunch” with one wideout closely behind another at the line. The idea is to make it difficult for the corner to manhandle a wideout in single coverage at the line of scrimmage.

Once Revis was diagnosed as needing reconstructive knee surgery, Cromartie said he felt as though he was the next-best cornerback in the league. In the game in which Revis was injured at Miami, Cromarties was on the Dolphins’ top receiver, holding Brian Hartline to one catch despite being targeted nine times. The next week, Hartline gained more than 200 receiving yards.

“Quite honestly, he has that kind of athletic ability where he could be the best corner in the league,” Ryan said of Cromartie. “I think he definitely has stepped up. I see it in the meeting rooms. He’s taken some of that leadership deal over the back end. He’s got more ability than probably anybody I’ve ever seen at that position, him and Deion [Sanders, the Hall of Famer]. He’s starting to play that way.

“Now, Reggie is going to catch his share, no doubt. But it’s not going to be a true isolation because of where they put him. I’m happy we have Cro to say the least.”

Of course, Cromartie also was called upon to play wide receiver against Houston after a shoulder injury to Clyde Gates, who is likely to miss the Colts game, too. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez had Cromartie open deep on one play but put the ball too far outside, forcing Cromartie to come down with it out of bounds. Another swing pass intended for Cromartie was tipped by a defender.

After the game, free-agent wide receiver Terrell Owens poked fun on Twitter at the Jets for using a corner at wide receiver. But during training camp, Cromartie actually upset some of his teammates by saying he was the Jets’ second-best wideout behind Santonio Holmes, who now is injured and out for the season.

With a playful smile, Ryan said, “Let’s face it, he’s the second best receiver on our team. After he went deep, I was like, ‘Shoot, he might have sold himself short.’

“I remember when he was at Florida State. On his pro day, he worked out as a corner, and he also worked out as a receiver. Watching him run those drills, he looked like a first-round receiver. He’s got size, speed, change of direction skills, and he has great ball skills.”

That’s why the Jets prepared Cromartie to run a few plays at wide receiver in case of an injury, which is exactly what happened against Houston. But with his 4.3 speed in the 40-yard dash, Cromartie showed he can be a deep threat, so, no one should be surprised if the Jets use him that way again.

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